What do the polls tell us? (Five by 8 – 9/29/10)

November by the numbers, how much does a hurricane weigh, is sad so bad, the Disneyland disaster, and why don’t college students graduate in four years?


1) NOVEMBER BY THE NUMBERS

Quick! Who leads in the polls for governor in Minnesota? We’re knee deep in the every-other-day-a-new-poll season. Today, the MPR-Humphrey Institute poll shows Democrat Mark Dayton with an 11-percentage-point lead. All of the polls use different methodologies and all of them weight their polls differently. The expert who oversees the poll says the reason is Democrats now intend to turn out to vote in percentages equal to Republicans. Chances are: They always intended to, they just weren’t interested in immersing themselves in the election in the middle of the summer.

The other wild-card is Independent Tom Horner. The poll shows more Republicans are swinging to him. At 16-percent, Horner is running out of time to be something other than a third-party spoiler. If he doesn’t show stronger support in three or four weeks, the big story will be whether all of those Republicans supporting Horner jump back to Emmer.

Poll/date
Dayton
Emmer
Horner
MPR (9/28)
38%
27%
16%
Star Tribune (9/26)
39%
30%
18%
Rasmussen (9/24)
41%
42%
9%
KSTP/Survey USA (9/15)
38%
36%
18%
MPR (8/31)
34%
34%
13%

So many “ifs,” what, then, do these polls really tell us? Have you decided yet?

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight takes a different approach. He calculates the chances a candidate will win based on “100,000 simulations with random variation in the local and national political environment,” whatever that means. He calculates Dayton has a 78.1% chance of winning, Emmer has a 21.9% chance of winning, and Horner has no chance of winning.

2) HOW MUCH DOES A HURRICANE WEIGH?

Does Robert Krulwich ever run out of science questions?

Of course, we’re more concerned about the weight of flood water around here. So, my napkin-math this morning reveals that the Mississippi River is moving through St. Paul at 63,000 cubic feet per second. A cubic foot of water weighs about 62 pounds. The Mississippi, the calculation suggests, weighs 3.9 million pounds at the observation point. Now, what do we do with that?

The city of Chaska has just posted this time-lapse video of the city’s athletic field.

And this video, taken Monday, from Redwood Falls is another example of the paradox of the beauty of destructive forces.

3)IS SAD SO BAD?

“Depression is an illness with a global reach,” Mary Kenny writes on the BBC today. But, sometimes, can’t we just be sad as part of the natural course of life’s events? She posits that we are losing old rituals of sadness.


No doubt we are better off for shedding much of the stigma surrounding mental illness – but with it, have we lost some of the variety, the dark poetry of the human condition?

Related from the BBC: Your mid-life crisis will likely start in your 30s.

4) “THE MARK TWAIN IS SINKING!”

Disneyland Disaster. Wired.com has a look back at the day Disneyland opened, with the real story.

5)WHY DON’T COLLEGE STUDENTS GRADUATE IN FOUR YEARS?

The University of Minnesota is trying to get students in and get them out in four years. Today, the U Daily editorial finds some problems with the plan, and offers its own solution:


In this country, college is supposed to be a place for intellectual exploration, not merely a clearinghouse for the marketplace. It’s impractical to think all students should know what they want to pursue in four years. Many change majors and many pursue multiple studies. Most are here for a more fulfilling life.

Students also take longer than four years because they feel financial pressure to work and avoid taking out big student loans, delaying their progress. On that, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster had this to say: “What we’d rather have students do, instead of working … is find other resources.” So why not offer lower tuition for a student’s last semester if it gets him or her out in four years or less?

It’s an idea that is 180 degrees opposite the U’s plan, which increased tuition the longer you stay in college. What if tuition went down the closer a student is to graduating?

Bonus: There’s nothing wrong with youth sports that getting rid of adults won’t cure.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Law enforcement officials are seeking new rules to make it easier for them to tap e-mail accounts the way they do phones. What right should government have to read your e-mail?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Assessing the impact of the bailout.

Second hour: Davis Guggenheim, director of “Waiting for Superman.” His other films include “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Training Day.”

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Political scientist Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota discusses the gubernatorial race.

Second hour: A Chautauqua Lecture about Supreme Court decision making, given by former Solicitor General Paul Clement .

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Political talk with Ken Rudin, NPR’s political editor.

Second hour: Marlo Thomas discusses her new book, “Growing Up Laughing.”